TFN exclusively reveals contents of damning report into Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian.
An independent review into Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian reveals the organisation was incompetent, self-serving and abjectly failed to deliver in its remit to serve the communities and groups in the area.
The damning document, instigated by the Scottish Government following concerns over its governance earlier this year, reveals a litany of failures, not least of which was the Gateway’s inability to understand it existed to represent the third sector.
Instead board members of the third sector interface – which was set up to offer support to charities and act as a link to the local authority - became embroiled in petty struggles, much of which were party political as the board, chaired by an SNP local councillor, railed against the ruling Labour local authority.
Driven by ego and proven to be self-serving, the board took an “old fashioned council-bashing approach” to the detriment of practically everything it stood to represent, the consultants found.
The confidential review was published in March 2015 by Avante Consulting but was deliberately hushed up by the former board because of the severity of the revelations.
It is only now been released by the Scottish Government after the Gateway’s entire board resigned at an AGM held last week.
Yet despite the report recommending no further public cash should be given until directors were replaced, the board continued to remain at the helm of the failed organisation for nine months, still riven by petty infighting and refusing to resign.
The board only stepped down after Alex Neil, the cabinet secretary, warned he was considering stripping the charity of its official function.
Neil had been made aware of concerns regarding the process of appointing directors, a lack of transparency in drawing up a new constitution and a lack of involvement from the third sector he said.
Problems at the organisation, which received over £1.2m of government cash and grants between 2011-2013, extended to paid staff who endured a chaotic management regime as well as a culture of bullying and harassment.
Furthermore a “combative and confrontational” culture persisted which led to a high proportion of sick leave being recorded and low morale among workers, the review discovered.
One staff member said: “Morale is poor – lots of tittle tattle and office politics, not a nice place to work.”
At the helm of a rapidly sinking ship
Jim Gallacher was a former regimental sergeant major having served 28 years in the British Army and was awarded medals for tours in the Gulf War and Northern Ireland. A former college tutor, he took up the post at Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian in 1998 "transforming" it from “a room with 1.5 members of staff and a budget of £30,000 to present day 18 members of staff budget £480,000.” He left last year.
The review found that Gallacher picked the staff, picked the directors and took decisions without recourse to the board. His relationship with board members was very close and many of them were seen to be loyal to him. The review stated: “Most of the people we spoke to believe that the board members were 'hand-picked' by the CEO and board and staff members (current and former) were able to confirm this.”
It also found that there was “more than one example of directors appointed and then resigning within six months. Both previous chairs were described by the current board as having resigned due to other commitments; in fact both resigned due to their concerns with the integrity of the rest of the board.
“There’s a lack of discipline, staff just run around doing what they want to do,” said another.
Most of the staff issues could be traced back to the board, the review found,
An investigation by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, following concerns by stakeholders, recommended a number of improvements to be made by the board but stopped short of taking any formal action, believing that the board had acknowledged its shortcomings.
A new board has now been elected and has met with the Scottish Government to re-establish “strong working relationships and to address matters of policy and governance”.
Douglas Westwater, who has been installed as the new chair of the organisation, told TFN: “The meeting was an important first step in ensuring constructive relationships and the building of trust. We left feeling that real progress had been made and with a sense of the genuine and practical support on offer from government to help us drive forward on our ambitions for a strong and effective organisation.
“We expect early discussions with senior officers at West Lothian Council to take place and the new board is confident that they can deliver on the actions necessary to get into the position of being an effective partner to council and the Community Planning Partners and to ensure that they represent the interests of their membership at a strategic level in the national and local policy and planning process.
“Work will take place over the Christmas and New Year period to finalise our immediate plans and priorities. Further consultation will take place with the membership and the wider community sector early in the New Year.
"A huge amount to support has been offered since the AGM from both organisations and individuals from West Lothian and further afield.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We now look forward to working with the new board to take forward the actions deemed necessary, by the Scottish government and local partners, to have a third sector interface that commands the confidence of all its stakeholders and will serve the third sector well in West Lothian.”
Attempts by TFN to contact former board members have been unsucessful.